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Sep 16, 2010 3:32 PM

Cuba Taking Steps to Soften US Embargo

HAVANA (AP) - Cuba is offering a series of small but specific
steps the administration of President Barack Obama can take to
soften the United States' 48-year-old trade embargo, including
expanding flights and establishing ferry service between both
countries and dropping bank bans that keep U.S. credit cards from
working on the island.
The 19 suggestions are a new - and perhaps conciliatory addition
- to the communist government's annual report criticizing
Washington's trade sanctions. Cuba produces the report every year
ahead of an annual United Nations vote in which the world
overwhelmingly condemns the embargo.
The 56-page report acknowledges that Obama cannot scrap the full
embargo without approval from Congress, but uses pages 4 through 7
to discuss steps his administration can take unilaterally.
Among them are doing away with rules that prohibit
Cuban-Americans and other authorized U.S. visitors from carrying
home Cuban gifts - such as the island's famous rum and cigars - and
dropping restrictions that limit such travelers from spending more
than $179 per day on lodging, food and transportation.
Also included is a suggestion that Obama increase
"people-to-people" exchanges with Cuba, expanding opportunities
for American students, educators and researchers.
Doing so would ease travel restrictions back to levels prior to
the administration of George W. Bush, and officials in the Obama
White House have said for weeks they expect an announcement
expanding "people-to-people" travel to come soon.
Cuba's suggestions for Obama are unique in that they are
specific enough to suggest the island's communist government may be
adopting a more conciliatory tone in its criticism of U.S. policy.
Whether the list will lead to anything concrete was unclear,
however. U.S. officials are likely to ignore it, especially since
island leaders routinely bristle at any suggestions about economic
or policy changes on the island when they come from Washington.
The report was released Wednesday following a presentation by
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who claimed that the
embargo has cost Cuba $751 billion to date and lamented that Obama
has missed a golden opportunity to improve relations with the
government of President Raul Castro.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, "we
remain committed to policies that advance U.S. national interests
and support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their
future."
The United States first imposed economic sanctions in 1961, and
the embargo took its current form the following year. Exempted from
the embargo are U.S. food, agriculture, and medicine.
In 2009, Obama made it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit the
island and send money to relatives here, and an agreement by both
sides already permits charter flights to Havana from Miami and New
York, mostly for Cuban-Americans and a few others with Washington's
permission to visit.
Authorities in other U.S. cities, including Tampa, Florida, and
New Orleans, have expressed interest in operating direct flights to
Cuba, if government rules allowed them to.
Cuba also said it wants Obama to make it easier for American
travel agencies to sell trips to the island; currently only 150
agencies are authorized to do.
Its other suggestions included removing Cuba from the United
States' annual list of state sponsors of terrorism; allowing Cuban
airlines - not just U.S. ones - to fly passengers between both
countries; and expanding approved U.S. exports to the island to
include insecticides, pesticides, more farming machinery and wooden
furniture.

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